What are God’s people to do when the wicked culture around them grows in power, scope, and depravity? How are they to respond when earth is loud with violence and Heaven seems silent?
Such were the days and circumstances of the ancient prophet Habakkuk.
Evil abounded and violence cried out in the street. Truth was silenced and her voices were persecuted. The law of God had ceased to have any restoring power or influence – in its place iniquity abounded and flourished. Destruction and violence were visible at every level of society – strife and contention clamored openly in the street.
And all of this was happening not in some far off nation but among God’s own chosen people – Israel.
What are God’s people to do when the righteous among them are persecuted, maligned, silenced, and rendered impotent by other people in their own city and from their own nation?
All of this violence and wickedness and vileness and strife was happening in Israel – and one man, Habakkuk had had enough.
So in righteous frustration and moral indignation he comes to God with a question –
“How long?? Why do you say nothing and do nothing??”
This is not a meek and quiet prayer coming out of quiet solitude or contemplative meditation. This is not the deep theological question argued and discussed in the midst of religious scholars. This is not theological voices debating and discussing the nature of good and evil or trying to explain and reconcile the holiness of God and the presence of evil in His world.
This prayer is coming out of the rawness of a pain-filled life – it is the deep cry of an afflicted soul.
For Habakkuk the wicked and vile and violent activity was real. It was present around him. He is not praying at a distance – it has touched him in deep, painful, and personal ways.
In the midst of this chaos and clamor surrounded by wicked Israelites doing violent and vile deeds on every side with every hand, righteous Habakkuk feels paralyzed and powerless. He and others like him are a small group surrounded by wicked and powerful people whose influence is so great and reaches to the highest levels of society so that what goes forth from those in power is no justice at all.
And all of this has been going on for a long time and it appears to be growing. And so Habakkuk wants to know why God is silent from Heaven.
“How long will you go on ignoring the evil so blatantly done by Your own people against each other, against Your laws, and in the very streets of Your own city?
“How long will You ignore our cry for justice? How long will You remain distant and not come to defend and deliver those of us who are loyal to Your law and concerned for Your great name.
“Why are You silent when we are not? Why are you inactive while we strive for Your truth on every side?
“I know You know and see all of this…and that is even more distressing – why don’t You act? Why don’t You come? Why don’t You deliver us and punish them?
“How long, O Lord…how long?!”
Habakkuk is not alone in this prayer – many of God’s people throughout the ages have found themselves in Habakkuk’s sandals wondering why God is silent.
“God…do You not see the crematoriums dotted across the landscape of Europe? Do You not know the smoke that rises from them is from the millions of Your people who have been brutally murdered?”
“Do You not see the ocean of blood that has been spilled from more than 1.5 billion babies aborted and murdered by their own parents?”
“How long, O Lord, will you remain silent as Your people are persecuted and brutally executed by religious fanatics who hate You and who hate Your people who are called by Your Son’s name – ‘Christians.’”
“O Lord, how long will You wait. Why are You silent when people who try to live by Your laws or abide by Your values are scorned? Are penalized? Are legally outmaneuvered by laws and a justice system that was originally founded on moral values and ethical mores found in Your law?”
“How long….O Lord…how long?”
Many of us have found ourselves in this spot – trying to reconcile our theology with our experience and failing to see how it can possibly be. No matter how we rearrange things or parse ideas we continue to struggle. For us 2+2 does not appear to add up to 4 – we keep getting 5. No matter which computer, calculator, or abacus – 2+2=5.
And in total desperation and (if we are honest) a good bit of personal frustration driven by no small dose of moral indignation, we come to God for an answer!
“Why are You silent?”
And God has an answer – but that answer may not always resolve the issue and dissipate the tension. At least not right away…
In essence, God’s answer is this – “My silence does not signify absence or inactivity.
“What you can’t hear or what you didn’t see is something I have been doing. And when you see it and hear of it, it will astonish you and leave you breathless.
“I have been working…just not how and where you were looking.
“For a minute, stop looking at the violence in the streets around you and look to see what I have been doing in the nations. Lift your ear from the din of the clamor around you and listen to the noise that is growing in the distance.
“I have been working and My work has been to raise up a nation of powerful, violent, arrogant people who worship their own might.
“And that nation has been doing a mighty and terrible work under My Heaven – they come swiftly and in full strength and they bring violence with them. Such violence that you have never yet seen.
“This bitter and hasty nation is coming. If you look you can see the dust of their armies…you can smell the smoke of the cities they have burned…and you can hear the clamor of their army on the move.
“So yes, Habakkuk, I do see and hear the violence of which you speak and that is so disconcerting to you…and no, I have not been ignoring it.
“My answer to all of it is on the way.”
To be continued…